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Hey everyone. This is a review that I just submitted to Gamefaqs detailing my impressions of Vanguard. I figured people who are coming in here wanting a serious opinion of the game might find it useful, so I'm gonna crosspost it here too.
From reading reviews on popular game websites, I expected this to be the worst game I'd ever laid eyes on. Despite all the negative feedback, I decided to try the game for myself and see what the fuss is. My impressions after a week of gameplay? Read on. I rank the game in 10 different categories, each on a scale of 10, for a full score out of 100.
Installing and patching the game and getting my account set up was an absolute breeze compared to other games in the genre (I'm looking at you FFXI). I never really felt as though I was being held up by needless steps, pointless bureaucracy, or useless side-installations. Everything was as concise as you can expect a 25GB game to be, and the patch only took an hour and a half, not the million hours everyone says it does.
Boasting 19 different races and 15 different classes, as well as sliders for feature adjustments, AND an option to choose the color of your starting clothes, there is plenty to love about character creation. I found myself happily playing around with various options, and spent probably a good hour before I settled on a Kojani Human Dread Knight as my main character. Special note must be made of the fact that Vanguard doesn't stick to the usual array of Elves, Humans and Dwarves. There are unique races not to be found in any other MMO, such as the Vulmane, Kurashasa, and Raki. I should note that, like many games, not all classes are open to every race, limiting the possible combinations overall. However, the sheer amount of both does not detract from one of the best character creation systems I've seen in recent memory.
Vanguard is slightly innovative and different by allowing you to have a surname for your character. While a standard feature in older MUD-based games, there are very few graphical games, and none that I've played, which give you this option. This adds a needed sense of realism, and allows those people who are into roleplaying to establish a new dimension to their characters, without requiring the use of 3rd party tools to do it.
Detracting slightly from this score is the fact that there are only 4 servers. Two PvE servers and one PvP server based in North America, and a PvE server based in Europe. As I learned, this makes getting a character name you want very difficult, and additionally results in bad ping times for people who aren't centrally located to one of the four servers.
As far as I could tell with the 5 characters I made to test things out, each race has their own starting area, adding a sense of realism and continuity to the world.
Overall, minor flaws regarding lack of servers and issues with finding a decent name do not noticeably affect a very solid character creation system. The only complaint I can really make about the system itself is that it COULD have a few more options for hairstyles.
More than any other MMO I've played, your mileage is going to vary in the graphical department. If you have a low-end or middle of the road system, you won't get the same experience as those people who have the highly customized gaming computers. Yet, if you have a solid rig, the visuals are, in a word, unbelievable. This review will be based on the area around Tanvu, the Kojani starting area, as I haven't really seen much of anywhere else yet, but you should still be able to get a good grasp of what to expect.
Trees tower into the sky and sway with the wind as clouds lazily roll past, rivers and lakes actually sparkle from a distance. When you're up high on a mountain, a layer of fog (real fog, not the game refusing to render at that distance) obscures the ground below. Moreover, the town in general is laid out in ultra-realistic fashion, with the serfs and farmers well outside of the city, all the way up to the nobles in their castle-like buildings at the top of the hill. And it only gets better.
Once you leave Tanvu and elect to go exploring, the game will blow your mind. I have never before simply walked about looking at scenery in a video game until now. The areas are HUGE and incredibly detailed. I was amazed. Jungles and tropical areas give way to plains, beaches, and coastlines. Screenshots of the game don't do the detail in the environments any justice at all. There is an ambient, realistic feel, that you can't really get unless you actually play. In many areas, you can walk for 5 minutes without seeing an aggressive mob (there are still mobs around, these just don't aggro) of any sort, allowing you to simply walk and enjoy your surroundings.
As brilliant as the environments are, however, the characters, NPCs, and monsters aren't quite up to the same calibre. While still visually incredible as long as they're standing still, the models run into difficulty when movement occurs.
Some animations such as the Dread Knight's finishing move, casting animations, and attack animations are solid and well done, while others, such as the terrible jumping, the clunky running, and the ridiculous spasms that occur while you're swimming, are absurd, robotic and patently out of place in a world as beautiful as Telon. It only gets worse watching other players.
Frame rates for 3rd-person animations are atrocious, as other players frequently teleport around the map, move a distance of 3 or 4 steps while only appearing to take one step, and stutter and spasm like an army of seizure victims. This is on a Quad Core PC with 4GB of RAM and Crossfire ATI Radeon X1950XTXs on a 30Mbps fiber optic cable line. I'm afraid to think about how much worse it would be on a low end system.
The amazing environments and incredible size of the world can and do offset the annoyance of watching your character spasm through narrow hallway #49 and up narrow staircase #73, but not enough to warrant more than a score of:
The more I played, the more I became confused regarding what seems to be the popular opinion of the music in the game. One of my first major conversations with the guild I ended up joining turned to the music, and I was shocked to find out that they, almost universally, disliked it. I don't really understand this at all.
Granted, my opinion may be swayed by the fact that I have 7.1 surround sound and a rather expensive and high quality Bose speaker system, but I found myself impressed by what I heard.
The music is melodic, ambient, and changes with the moods of the game. I never found it monotonous, even after having been in an area for hours. I never felt as though I had to turn down the volume, or put on a CD, and for an MMO, that's a first for me. The orchestral arrangements are of exceptional quality, and the battle themes will really get you going. There's even a full choir utilized in some tracks. Combined with the incredible environment visuals, and the huge worlds, the music creates a truly epic feel and scope for the game.
The sound effects are just as good. Weapons make different sounds depending on what you're swinging and what you're hitting, larger weapons whoosh as you swing them, while smaller ones make a satisfying swipe sound. There are ambient sounds in spades, such as seagulls, eerie background whispers in the aptly titled House of Whispers, well done wind sounds, waterfalls and footsteps. Critical hits produce a loud booming noise, there are additional sounds when your chain abilities are triggered, and even more as you use them. Even the menus have 3 different little 'click' sounds that play as you navigate them.
When you're crafting, your character is as expressive as I've ever seen in an MMO. Listening to him "Huh?" in wonder as fire shoots from the forge (I'm a blacksmith), cough when soot flies everywhere, sigh when he gets tired, hoot and throw his arms in triumph at the completion of an item, and even throw a little tantrum like a two year old, complete with "Rassafrassin mhpshgph" sound effect, when the going gets tough, all combine to make this one of the best audio experiences you can find in the genre.
I'm not sure how or why people dislike the music and sound, but this reviewer believes that they must be deaf.
Ah yes, now we come to it. Various sources tell me that the game used to be worse in terms of bugs, memory leaks, and performance. I'm not quite sure how this is possible. That would be like dividing the world by zero. I'm going to start with the most obvious things and work my way down.
To begin with, there are extreme issues with texture rendering. All of these bugs I've checked with multiple sources to make sure they're not just anomalies on my system. Entire objects randomly flicker. This is the most annoying and obvious of the bugs. It doesn't appear to be related in any way with draw distance, as that rock right next to you is as much of an epileptic fit as that mountain way off in the distance. As far as I can tell, it seems as though the Vanguard engine randomly re-renders textures for no discernable reason when you move. This generally happens only in large outside areas, and not always when you'd expect. Sometimes it doesn't happen, sometimes it's noticeable but tolerable, sometimes it's downright distracting.
Watching other players move around is absolutely hilarious and disturbing at the same time. Due to poor animations and a seemingly exhaustive supply of graphical glitches, players frequently run in place, run forwards while moving backwards, run sideways while moving forwards or backwards, walk through and stand in solid objects, walk into or out of the ground, drop from the sky, or walk straight up as if they're about to ascend into heaven, levitate, teleport, blink, shake, rattle and roll all over the map.
Perhaps the funniest of these so far, is when I watched someone fly by on his mount, and proceed to gallop right down the beach, into the water, and down into the bottom of the ocean, where the horse was still visible, but the rider was not. A riderless horse galloping across the bottom of the ocean is not something you expect to see everyday.
Moving on, you are going to get stuck, and it's going to happen a lot. So far I've been stuck under two stairways, in a door, between a wall and a rock, between a fence and a rock, inside of a rock, inside of a tree, between a fence and a hill, and inside of an NPC. Thankfully, there's a command /stuck which will teleport you to safety without having to bother a GM. If the GM's had to go and personally examine and attend to every person who got stuck, the game would never be updated again.
I also managed to fall through the world once. An interesting piece of trivia: There's water under the world. A breath meter comes up about 10 seconds after you start falling. I had to summon my corpse and eat an experience loss, as I couldn't figure out how to duplicate my fellow adventurers' ability to walk through solid ground.
I have only crashed to desktop twice so far. Judging from what I've read, it appears I'm lucky, as others seem to do so several times a day.
Some of these are funny, and some of these downright tick me off, but despite all of the horrible bugs, none of them are particularly game breaking. Annoying? You bet. Funny? Sometimes. But for the most part, they will not make you mash your keyboard in anger and give the game up.
In many MMOs, this is the part of the game that gets overlooked. Developers are so focused on balance tweaking, fancy graphics, and raid content, that they can't step back to write a believable world for their game. Not so in Vanguard. Not at all.
From the very first moment I set foot in the game, I could tell that a LOT of work was put into the quest lines, the world, the lore, the political intrigue. Being Kojani, everything so far has an Asian/Buddhist type theme to it, and there are layers upon layers of things to love. In merely a week of play, my Kojani Human has gone from a soldier of an Emperor, to following a new spiritual path, to investigating a murder and resolving conflict, to prosecuting another for the same murder, to becoming involved in political allegiances and inter-house disputes, to being an active participant in a war that spills over from a 'Dream World' into Telon.
There are so many things going on, it can be downright difficult to tear yourself away from the evolving stories. Granted, many of the above examples are related to Diplomacy quest chains (which I'll get to in a minute), but the option is there for those who are interested in the story, lore, and background of the world in which they adventure.
Diplomacy in itself is worth a game of its own, but for it to be just one part of an even bigger picture is just astounding. It is very difficult for me to do justice to the complexity of the diplomacy system. In a nutshell, it offers an incredible outlet for those people who are interested in more than just mashing up monsters. I am only level 10 so far, but I've already gone through two awesome storylines, and spent about another few hours just doing civic diplomacy to read all the back and forth dialogue (and I managed to give the entire city of Tanvu a +10% run speed buff in the process). I could go on a whole tangent about this section alone, but suffice it to say, if you're a new player, you need to experience it for yourself.
Contributing to this category even more, is the fact that you can gain actual titles which you can display to other players for your efforts in adventuring, diplomacy, and crafting. My character right now is a Juritor, a high ranking judicial officer. Completing certain quest chains, and leveling adventuring, crafting and diplomacy to certain levels results in your receiving new titles. I have barely begun to scratch the surface of the game, and I already have 8 titles to my name.
This is the only time in this review where I'll make this comparison, because it's that glaring. Vanguard ANNIHILATES World of Warcraft when it comes to Story/Quest Chains/Immersion/Lore. It's just not even close.
This is a category that can really polarize opinions. Some people are going to sit down to play this game, and immediately compare the combat to World of Warcraft. While there are some similarities, most obviously the UI, the combat is really rather unique. Again, this will be from the perspective of a Dread Knight, as this is the only class I've played enough to be able to offer a decent opinion.
You learn skills by purchasing them from your trainer. This should be familiar to many players. Vanguard takes skills a a step further, however, by giving you abilities which only activate at certain times. For example, as a Dread Knight at level 14, upon scoring a critical hit with one of your abilities, a 'finishing move' unlocks. If you're paying attention and you activate it in time, you execute an awesome attack that does big damage. Similarly, if you successfully block an enemy's attack, a "counter-attack" unlocks. This will do some extra damage and can help turn the tide of a fight.
Skills are extremely plentiful. As a Dread Knight, I already have access to multiple buffs, a debuff, a DOT spell, hate generating abilities, two different stances that increase either attack or defense depending on what I'm doing, the aforementioned finishing blow and counter attack, an ability that allows me to protect an ally in my group from a couple attacks, multiple direct damage attacks, a crowd control ability, and a "sprint" ability which lets me run at a significantly increased rate of speed for 45 seconds. I even have an ability that allows me to teleport behind the mob and execute a melee attack which drains life, and this is ONLY LEVEL 14. The variety of options for combat and the attentiveness required to execute the finishing move and counter attack each serve to curb the repetition of slaughtering the 20 lizards or 12 orcs required to complete your next quest.
There are quests in Vanguard which are more interesting than the usual KILL EM ALL stompfests that permeate most alternatives these days, and there are A LOT of them. I have found myself leveling faster at any given time than I can complete all the quests in my log. Rather than being a giant grind, the immense amount of questing alternatives, coupled with the fact that the small storylines and dialogue tends to be a bit more interesting and intellectual than "DA ORCS KILLED MAH PARENTZ AN NOW I NEEDZ YA TO KILLZ DEM ALL K GO KILL 12 N I GIVE U THIS FAMILY HEIRLOOM!!!", give the game a more mature feel and immersive feel. I am finding the low levels of this game enjoyable, instead of something to race through in order to reach endgame.
There is resting experience in this game, but admittedly, it takes awhile to add up to any major amount, and if you play consistantly, it will be a non-issue. Additionally, after level 10, the game periodically awards you attribute points which you can use to further customize your character's stats to tailor toward your play style. Of course, most people will choose to min-max for what they intend to do, but I enjoy stat customization for the simple fact that it allows you to be creative and different.
Another plus for the combat system in this game lies in weapon selection. As a Dread Knight, the game mechanics don't force me to use a particular weapon type. There are no abilities (so far) that can only be used if I have a certain weapon equipped. And damage ratings on weapons are similar. My Dread Knight uses a spear, and I'm told that very few other Dread Knights do. The ability to level as a melee using the weapon of your choice without it affecting you negatively is something that I haven't been able to find in many games as of yet.
Overall, there are admittedly many similarities between the combat of Vanguard and other games. If you find MMO combat and advancement to be boring in general, you probably won't be swayed here, and you probably shouldn't be playing MMOs anyway. However, for those who either enjoy or don't mind the standard MMO combat systems, the sheer amount of usefull skills, and the need to actually (god forbid) pay attention to your battles, coupled with the incredible amount of interesting quests, make Vanguard FUN at lower levels, not only at higher ones.
Here we go. This is where the game shines above all others in the genre. The crafting in Vanguard is fun, it's useful, AND it's revolutionary.
There are three main crafts, Outfitter, Artificer, and Blacksmith. Each one of these has crafting subsets, for example, a Blacksmith can be either an armorsmith or a weaponsmith. Crafting levels progress almost exactly like adventuring levels, with rested experience if you take a break for awhile. Just as there are stats for adventuring such as strength and constitution, there are stats for crafting, such as problem solving, reason and ingenuity. Just as there are skills for adventuring, such as combat awareness, perception, and weapon abilities, there are skills for crafting, such as armorsmithing, metallurgy, smelting utilities, tools, etc... After level 10, just as in adventuring, the game periodically awards you attribute points to distribute to your crafting stats. Each crafting stat influences different actions while you're crafting, for example, problem solving helps with dealing with complications.
The crafting process itself is unique, and requires a good deal of thought, attention, prediction, and of course, some luck. It would take me an entire day to write about the specifics, but suffice it to say, when you sit down to craft something in Vanguard, expect to be VERY much involved in what you're doing. There are many different crafting tools, many different utilities which can be used during the crafting process which all have different functions, and many different actions you can take. Each item ends up with a quality rating which can be either a D, C, B or A. Quality rating depends on how well you do during the crafting process for that item.
Vanguard trumps the usual method of advancement for crafting. One of my biggest pet peeves regarding this system in other games, is the fact that you spend more time gathering materials than you do actually crafting. This is entirely eliminated here. You can level your craft without ever harvesting a single resource or buying a single item off the auction house, through the use of work orders.
Work orders are, in essence, your NPC taskmaster supplying you with the materials to level your craft, and then PAYING YOU when it's finished. There are many, many work orders that you can do, ranging from difficult (yellow work orders) to very easy (light blue work orders). Some work orders require you to make 1 item, some require you to make 3 items, and some require 5 items. Each work order relates to a different crafting subset, whether it be armorsmithing, weaponsmithing, or metallurgy (for blacksmiths), or one of the other craft's subsets. At the completion of each item, you will be awarded experience points depending on the difficulty of the item, and how well you did on it.
Upon completion of your work order, you receive a reward from your taskmaster. The quality of the reward is dependant upon the quality and amount of your work order. If you fail at every one of your items, you will get nothing. If you only complete half of them, you will get a poor reward. If you complete all of them with "A" level quality, you will get a substantial reward, generally a good sum of money, which may also include uncommon or rare crafting gear, materials to produce your own items, or trinkets which you can vendor for additional money.
This brings me to my next point, crafting equipment. Like your standard adventuring gear for smashing the many mobs you'll find on your journey, you will likewise need a set of good crafting gear if you plan on reaching higher level crafting. Crafting gear will raise your crafting stats, skills, and tool effectiveness, allowing you to complete more difficult work orders, obtain better rewards, and ultimately, achieve the highest level of quality on items you craft for yourself or others.
Crafting your own items will require harvested materials. Blacksmiths need copper and tin for example, which can be found at the many nodes near rocks and mountains in the wilderness. Harvesting these materials requires a mining pick, while harvesting basalt (which mineralogists use) requires a hammer. Each type of node has its own item that is needed to harvest it. Like adventuring and crafting, harvesting has its own set of equipment. Better equipment and tools may increase your harvesting ability or the amount of yield per node. Each time you harvest a node, you have a chance of acquiring rare or extremely rare materials from it, which in turn can be used to make rare or extremely rare items.
Crafted items in this game are actually useful. This is another HUGE plus for the game. I can't think of another game where at level 14, with a level 10 craft, I can make my own entire set of armor and have it actually hold up comparatively well to other items that are available as drops from monsters. It is amazingly fun to realize that the work you put into crafting is actually of benefit. I have successfully made and sold more than 20 pieces of gear to the broker, and I have made nearly 3 gold doing it. And I'm ONLY level 10!
This is the best crafting system that I've seen so far since I started playing MMOs. Really, the only improvements they could possibly make would be to add even more additional recipes, but that would be like asking for extra icing on the cake.
Face it, there are a lot of good games out there that have been ruined not by the developers, but by the people who play them. Nobody wants to fight off a bunch of 12 year old kids shouting out obscenities in region chat, between fighting off mobs, and other players. So far, the only thing I've been fighting off is gifts.
I am absolutely shocked by the kindness in this community. I am on the Seradon server, so I can't speak for every single server, but In region chat people are mature, carry on friendly discussions, answer questions, and freely offer help and advice. Nobody swears, there are no arguments, no dissension, and people actually laugh and have a good time in the game. In the groups I have been in, everyone has been intelligent, mature, funny and generally a joy to be around. I have never seen a community that I've been as glad to be a part of.
I found a guild easily using the Guild Recruitment feature, and had a good conversation with the leader I talked to. I was recruited within a half hour. Before the night was over, I had received a monetary donation, advice about quests, a pair of diplomacy cards (since I told them I liked diplomacy), and I even had one bard member personally ferry me back to Tanvu when I got lost. A couple days later, I was having difficulty with a quest in the Ra'Jin stronghold. I asked a question regarding the best way to retrieve my corpse from a 4 dot monster that had killed me.
Imagine my surprise to find that EVERY GUILD MEMBER ON AT THE TIME came to help me with the quest. They all traveled from another continent just to help me. I was literally uneasy as I stood there with 6 people ranging from level 25-40 waiting for a level 11 quest mob to respawn so that they could help kill it for someone who joined 2 days before. And they were happy to do it, they talked, joked and laughed during the whole thing.
Every time I log on and check my mailbox, someone else in the guild has sent me something new. I have never asked for any of it, in fact, it makes me uncomfortable, but they insist that it's no trouble, and they're glad to have me, and all sorts of things that, after playing World of Warcraft, I never expected to see from a guild.
No matter what time of day you play, there is always someone around shouting for a group, or at the very least, willing to answer any questions that are asked in regional chat. Of course, your mileage may vary, but personally, this is the type of community that I'd want to be a part of for years to come.
Diplomacy would be worth a 10 by itself. The sense of accomplishment is enormous. In the middle of the night, I was the only one parleying with clergy, and I managed to take one of the city diplomacy levers all the way from 0-62, single-handedly giving everyone in the city a 10% run speed buff. Feeling as though you can actually make a difference on a large scale is a feeling you don't get with many other MMO games. It's hard to describe, but there's an intangible atmosphere that comes with adventuring in the world of Telon. Things that seem mundane in other games, are slightly less so in Vanguard, and as a reviewer, it's hard to say why in terms that everyone will be able to understand.
The fact that the game is geared more toward intelligent, dedicated players, and less toward the fly-by-night teenage crowd, makes the environment all the more epic. Even though I'm only 23 years old, and barely out of that group, I already find myself annoyed at the excessive Chuck Norris jokes, or latest discussion about pwning newbs. I have Counter-Strike and TF2 for that, I don't need it in my MMOs as well.
Vanguard is a game that gets a LOT of undeserved bashing. The thing is, most of the people I see badmouthing the game seem like the same ones who want to pwn newbs or talk Chuck Norris while sitting and emoting fart noises on someone's corpse. The remainder of the naysayers are people who refuse to believe that they may actually have to upgrade their computer one day. Games are becoming more and more graphics intensive. To remain a gamer requires keeping up with current hardware and software configurations.
Don't get me wrong, the game has its faults, and the ones it does have are glaring. The endless stream of bugs, the god-awful animations, and combat that is essentially generic (if not trumped up a bit), do detract from the overall experience.
HOWEVER. And this is the point I need to make for all of those considering this game.
Bugs can be fixed. Animations can be smoothed out. Content can ALWAYS be added.
BAD GAMEPLAY CAN NEVER BE FIXED, AND A BAD COMMUNITY WILL DAMN A GAME FOREVER.
Vanguard has awesome gameplay, and the most incredible community I've ever had the pleasure of being a part of. The crafting and diplomacy are worth a game in themselves, and the immersion is absolutely mind-blowing.
The developers are actively involved in this game, as evidenced by the recent discussions on the official forums. The only bad things about this game are things that can and WILL be fixed in time. Give the game a chance. Ignore the bugs for a couple weeks. Pretend they don't exist. In time, they won't, and all that will be left is a great game with an awesome group of people playing it.
FINAL SCORE - 86/100
1-10 = Worst game ever; burn your system before you play it.
11-20 = Terrible game; stay far far away.
21-30 = Bad game; may have some moments that don't completely suck, but essentially a terrible game.
31-40 = Poor game; may have some redeeming qualities; has multiple major problems.
41-50 = Below average game; fun at times, mostly not; has one major problem or multiple minor problems.
51-60 = Average game; nothing too terrible nothing too great; worth playing.
61-70 = Above average game; fun to play; has a few minor problems or glitches.
71-80 = Good game; very fun to play; solid finished product that's worth the money and time; has one or two things holding it back.
81-90 = Great game; very fun to play; one or more aspects are flawless or revolutionary; expect to spend a lot of time playing; only flaws are minor or easily fixed.
91-100 = Perfect game; expect to waste years of your life on this. The pinnacle of it's genre.